“Don’t worry, he won’t bite you!” It seems virtually every dog owner has yelled this to my client before their dog viciously attacked our client in a dog bite case.
I have always been a dog lover since I started hunting at the age of 6; unfortunately, not all dog owners take the time to properly train their dogs which can lead to serious injury and even death.
Iowa law holds dog owners strictly liable for damages whether their dog bites a person or another animal or whether their dog even merely worries but does not bite a person or another animal. Iowa Code § 351.29 provides:
351.28 LIABILITY FOR DAMAGES. The owner of a dog shall be liable to an injured party for all damages done by the dog, when the dog is caught in the action of worrying, maiming, or killing a domestic animal, or the dog is attacking or attempting to bite a person, except when the party damaged is doing an unlawful act, directly contributing to the injury. (Emphasis ours).
In other words, provided you are not breaking into the dog owner’s house or doing some other illegal activity or teasing or otherwise provoking the dog, the owner of a dog is to be held strictly liable for damages caused by their dog biting, attempting to bite, or even worrying a person or another animal.
The phrase “strict liability” is a strong legal phrase not found in very many sections of the Iowa Code. Normally, Iowa’s liability laws are subject to comparative fault where the relative fault of each party is compared. But here, the intent of the state legislature is that dog owners shall be liable. Dog bite case law in Iowa is real.
Under such “strict liability” language, it is foreseeable that a small child may go up to a fence to pet the “doggy” and the dog owner will still be held liable because of the nature of the law in Iowa.
As will be seen below, insurance companies often settle these dog bite cases for very small amounts by falsely telling those injured by dog bites that the case is not worth a lot while falsely claiming that getting an attorney will only cut into the amount the insurance company is willing to pay. Insurance companies know this is false as, according to documents obtained in a class action case involving a well-known insurance company, even the insurance companies own stats show that an experienced and knowledgeable attorney can get much more for those injured by dog bites (even after paying attorney fees) than those injured persons can get without an attorney,
Similarly, most cities and counties in Iowa have “leash ordinances” which require dog owners to have their dogs on leashes. If a dog owner has their dog on a 40-foot leash (or even a 6-foot leash) and they are unable to control their dog from biting or worrying a person or another animal, while that dog owner may not be liable for violating a leash ordinance, they will nonetheless be held civilly liable for damages caused to another person or to another animal. In other words, an injured person can still have a legally valid a dog bite case even if the dog was on a leash.
Most homeowners’ insurance policies cover dog bites cases if the owner notifies their homeowners’ insurance in a timely manner that their dog has bitten or worried a person or another dog. If a dog owner fails to timely notify their homeowners’ insurance company as soon as the homeowner has notice that their dog has bitten or worried a person or another animal, that dog owner/homeowner may find their homeowners’ insurance policy refusing to pay for the damages and further refusing to hire an attorney to defend the dog owner/homeowner against a lawsuit which means the dog owner/homeowner would have to hire their own attorney and pay for any resulting damages out of their own pocket.
If a dog owner does not care whether their dog bites or chases a person or another animal, perhaps they should be a bit more careful for their own selfish reasons: Once a homeowners’ insurance company pays a claim due to their dog biting or worrying a person or another animal, that dog owner’s own insurance company is likely to cancel their homeowner’s insurance policy which means, among other things, that insurance company will report the dog bite claim to a national database accessed by other insurance companies. In other words, once you are entered into that data base because your dog caused your homeowner’s insurance company to pay a claim, virtually every other insurance company will not provide you homeowners’ insurance due to that claim. Since most home mortgages require homeowners’ insurance to be in place at all times, the bank or financial institution holding your home mortgage will be notified of the policy cancellation promptly and then the dog owner has to worry about losing their house because the mortgage company will not continue to carry the mortgage without homeowners’ insurance. Dog bite cases have real and permanent consequences to those injured as well as to the dog owner.
Even those who do not own dogs can still be liable for a dog bite on their property. For example, say you do not own a dog and you are hosting a yard party at your house and you allow a guest to bring their dog into your yard and the guest’s dog bites someone; shouldn’t both the dog owner and the party host’s own homeowner’s insurance policies both be liable for this dog bite case?
Given the fact that dogs will run free if their owners will let them, and the fact that many dog owners will take their dogs to parks or city markets, it is only fitting that dog owner liability (and the liability of their homeowners’ insurance) should follow the dog wherever the dog goes or wherever the owner takes the dog. For example, let’s say you take your child to a crowded city market where a dog owner is walking their dog on a leash, and let’s say the dog bites a child; the dog owner’s homeowners’ insurance will be on the hook for damages to the child (and the child’s parents if applicable).
It should also be noted that Iowa is not a “first bite” state which means that the dog (or the dog owner) does not get a “free” first bite before Iowa’s strict liability dog bite laws kick in. In other words, even if your dog never bit a person or animal—or ever worried a person or another animal—it does not matter under Iowa law as the dog owner is strictly liable for the first such instance. There are no “freebies” when it comes to dog bite cases in Iowa.
A note of caution: Most people do not realize the value of a dog bite case and end up settling their case for an amount they thought was fair. When the true damages begin to surface years later and they realize they settled their dog bite case for too little, it is often too late for our firm to do anything once they have signed on the dotted line and accepted their settlement check.
Take this example dog bite case: presume a 9-year-old girl was bit on the face by a dog and let’s say (as is often the case) that those facial scars cannot be reduced by plastic surgery until her face matures when she is an adult (at which time the plastic surgeon may refuse to operate given there may be a high risk that any surgery would amplify rather than decrease the appearance of the facial scars). Whether we like it or not, society places an inordinate amount of emphasis on looks and social scientists have proven this in study after study. We may not like this is the way thing are, but these are the facts. Will the child go through her pre-teen and teen years—a period of time which is already rife with uncertainty and the cruelty of peers—and become psychologically scarred for life because of these facial scars? When that 9-year-old grows up, will having scars on her face affect her success as a salesperson or affect her prospects for finding a spouse?
Our Cedar Rapids personal injury law firm has handled dog bite cases for nearly 25 years, and we have found that the psychological damage of such scars is often much deeper and longer lasting than the physical damage caused by the scars. This is why it is important to contact a personal injury law firm that has knowledge and experience handling dog bite cases.
As noted here, we are up front about telling people if they can handle a dog bite case (or any other case) on their own because they will remember we treated them fairly should they or someone they know become involved in a serious dog bite or serious personal injury case down the road. In fact, it is very gratifying and humbling for our personal injury law firm to receive a number of phone calls each month from people we helped handle a case on their own years earlier who are now calling because they or a loved one suffered a serious dog bite case or other serious personal injury requiring the skill and experience of our personal injury law firm and they thought of calling us first because they remembered we helped them at no cost earlier. Click here to talk to or email and attorney now at no cost or obligation.
The worst thing to live with is regret, so if you or a loved one suffered a dog bite and think you have a dog bite case, call our Cedar Rapids personal injury law firm for a free initial consultation to see whether our firm can help or whether the case is one you should be able to handle on your own. You do not pay our firm a percentage attorney fee unless you win.
Disclaimer: The information contained here and throughout our website, and in our printed or other materials, are for general informational purposes only as this information should not be considered to be legal advice concerning your specific case. You should consult an experienced and knowledgeable attorney in this area of law to determine whether the information given in our videos, website, and other materials applies to your specific case as the failure to do so could do significant harm to your case. Please be advised there are many more issues or concerns than those listed here, but we have listed some of the more common issues or concerns we’ve seen here. Please remember that our firm does not represent you unless or until we enter into a written fee agreement signed by both you and our firm. Click here for additional disclaimer information.
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